Writing songs

Learn how to compose a song.

This lesson includes:

  • a video to help you understand how to start writing a song
  • audio clips from famous songs
  • three activities to try at home

Learn

How do you start writing a piece of music? It's not easy to know where to begin. In this lesson we will focus on how to write a song.

In the film below you can see how Ben and Tara follow a few steps to develop their own song:

  1. They start by working on the chorus.
  2. They try out different chord progressions using the chords G, C, D.
  3. They experiment with the chords to find the right fit.
  4. They change the tempo to make it feel more lively.
  5. They improvise vocal melodies over the chords.

Try these ideas when you make your own music.

Watch how Tara and Ben start writing their new song.

These are a few things you need to think about when you make a song:

  • Melody to create the tune.
  • Lyrics to create the story.
  • Chords to add to the texture and create harmonies.

If the song is played along with other instruments it could also include:

  • Bass line to drive the song forward.
  • Drum beat to add rhythm.

Structure

Chorus - Most songs will have a chorus. This is repeated several times with the same lyrics and melody.

Verses – These happen before and after the chorus. There are usually new lyrics in each verse. A verse has a different melody to the chorus

Bridge - A section which is a bit different to the rest. It often appears before the final chorus.

Instrumental - Some songs have an instrumental section instead of a verse as a break from the vocals.

The structure of a song might look something like this.

Listen to three songs

One of the best ways of improving your songwriting skills is listening to great songs.

These songs by Elton John, Amy Winehouse and The Beach Boys have all been huge hits. Listen to these extracts and find out a bit about what made these songs so successful.

Listen to the second verse of Elton John's Your Song. The vocals are supported by chords, piano, a bass line and strings. This was one of his first big hits and has been covered by Ellie Goulding and Lady Gaga.
Listen to Tears Dry On Their Own by Amy Winehouse. Her lyrics are combined with chord progressions and melodies from Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. Recreating musical ideas from an existing song in this way is called interpolation.
Listen to Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys. The song has six different sections and features some unusual production for its time. The instruments range from a string quartet to a harp and an electronic instrument called a theremin.

Listen to more

In the film above Ben and Tara are writing a song. They went on to create the song The Sound Of Us. Listen to how it sounds below.

Listen to the band perform their song The Sound Of Us.
This recording just has Tara's vocal part from The Sound Of Us. Listen and focus on the lyrics and melody.
The recording has just the bass line from The Sound Of Us. Hear how it drives the song along.

Explore the score

Download the sheet music and play along.

The Sound Of Us - Full score
document

Practise

Here are a few ideas to start writing a song:

Activity 1

The Beatles' song A Day In The Life was inspired by the Daily Mail newspaper (from 17 January 1967 to be precise!) Why not try using this method to create your own song?

  • Find a newspaper.
  • Read a few articles and note down interesting phrases.
  • Recite the phrases to a steady pulse to get some rhythmic ideas. Use a drum pattern to help.
  • Combine the phrases into verse-chorus forms.
  • Add some chords on keyboard or guitar to the drum pattern and try out ideas for melodies.

Activity 2

Write a poem about a train journey with the help of Ten Pieces and poet Simon Mole.

Where will you go? Who will you go with? What will you see?

Follow the step-by-step tutorial and write your own lyrics. Take it further and see if you can set it to a tune to make a song.

Ask an adult to share your poem or song using the Ten Pieces Uploader for a chance to have it featured on the Ten Pieces website!

Write a poem inspired by a journey with Simon Mole

Activity 3

Where next?

In this lesson you have learnt about writing songs.

Click on the links below for more help with your songwriting:

Bitesize Daily lessons
KS3 Music
Ten Pieces at home
KS3 Music
Write a rap
Enter the competition